Partagas Thursday / Fernando Dámaso

This weekend there are elections and, as elections are always extremely boring in Cuba — before the first vote is cast it’s already known who will be elected — I feel nostalgic.

Partagás Thursday, a TV variety show from the fifties, was broadcast on that day of the week by CMQ TV, Channel 6, at nine in the evening and lasted an hour. The main figure was an internationally renowned artist, who was the main course, complemented by various musical numbers with other artists and two fixed pieces: a choreographed ballet by Juliette and Sandor, two Argentineans living in Cuba, and a skit with performances by Violeta Vergara (the daughter of Rita Montaner)in the role of Pelusa (Fluff), a newsboy street philosopher, and her counterpart, the actor Alejandro Lugo, who had already been Rita Montaner’s counterpart in a satirical program called “Better I Shut Up,” also on CMQ. Also, not surprisingly, the ads of the commercial sponsor, the Partagas cigar company, were a part of the broadcast.

The entire program, as usual on television in those years, was shown live, using two or three of the studios in the Radiocentro building on Calle M between 23 and 2l in El Vedado. The producer general was Joaquín M. Barcelona. Our job in the advertising agency, Agencia de Publicidad Mercados, Surveys y Publicidad S. A., was the commercials: one at the beginning and one at the end, usually filmed previously, and one in the middle of the program that was generally filmed live. Visually it was different every week, although the message was repeated, corresponding to the current campaign. It involved, as exclusive broadcaster, the actor Enrique Santiesteban, and as a model, also exclusive Ziskay Gladys, a beautiful brunette Chinese woman.

Gladys in 1958

For the most part the ads were for cigar and beer companies, emphasizing the sensual, lightly touching on the erotic, as was all that was allowed in those years. The line that couldn’t be crossed was very faint, and we were always walking on the razor’s edge, subject to a suspension imposed by the inquisitor Tarajano, president of a so-called Morals and Ethics Committee, who would, according to their criteria, determine whether something was moral or not.

We struggled over the depth of the neckline on the model’s shirt, or the length and adjustment of her shorts. Also with the intention of her gestures and even the look in her eyes and the placement of her lips. The concern was to maintain a sensual image, without violating the parameters established by the Committee. Usually we got by with it, but sometimes we were punished with suspensions of one, two or three programs, which forced us to use only a speaker and still images or filmed footage.

The entire program was rehearsed in the morning, sometimes until after noon, and was broadcast at night. On finishing one, we were thinking what to do next, all within the maelstrom that meant having different commercials on different programs: on another musical on Wednesday, on a soap opera three times a week, on baseball broadcasts on Saturdays and Sundays, on kids’ shows in the afternoon, and on the “Show at Noon” on weekdays, and more on an educational program on Sunday night.

Our Agency’s Department of Radio, Film and Television, responsible for these activities, was made up of five members, among whom we shared responsibilities: Sergio, Ramiro, Juan Jose, Rita and me. Sergio, the eldest and the artistic director, mainly looked after the soap operas, his specialty. Ramiro, a jack-of-all-trades, produced two programs and most of the remaining commercials. Juan Jose produced a program on Channel 4, and looked after all matters relating to cinematographic films. Rita, Cuban-French, was a utility player and participated in practically everything. I worked directly with Ramiro in producing commercials and later I was in charge of producing two programs and the commercials for baseball, as well as participating in the rest.

To carry out our work, we coordinated and undertook other joint activities with various producers of our programs: Tito Borbolla and Jorge Fraga for the soap operas, Roberto Miranda for baseball, Joaquin M. Barcelona for the musical, etc. In addition, we worked with with the writer Marcos A. Behmaras who was the scriptwriter for the soap opera “Mámá,” and the announcers Enrique Santiesteban, Eusebio Valls, Maria Antonia Fariñas, Taty Martell, Carmen Ibarra and others.

Those years at the Advertising Agency, which grew from a department of 21 between L and M, adjacent to the La Roca restaurant, through the two neighboring apartments in Paseo and 13 to get to the building of L and 25, are unforgettable moments.

January 31 2013